This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cloak & Dagger (1984)

"Jack Flack always escapes!"
-Davey Osborne.

One of my colleagues recently posted an article about the best movies of 1984. Indeed, the many gems which came out that year include Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Terminator, Starman, Tightrope, Romancing the Stone, Beverly Hills Cop, The Last Starfighter and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Another great movie which came out that year was this thriller, which, one could say, capitalized on the home video game craze that was beginning to take hold of many households, but, unlike the notoriously awful House of the Dead (2003), it did not exclusively depend on it to tell its story.

Davey Osborne (Henry Thomas) is a boy who recently lost his mother and has trouble connecting with his hard-working father Hal (Dabney Coleman). This is why he spends his time on role playing games, specifically Cloak & Dagger. The game's hero, superspy Jack Flack (also Coleman), even pops up to give Davey advice.

One day, Davey's friend, video game store owner Morris (William Forsythe, yes, that William Forsythe) sends Davey and his friend Kim (Christina Nigra) on a errand. It is during that run that Davey witnesses the murder of a man who gives Davey an Atari Cloak & Dagger game cartridge, telling them that it must not fall into the wrong hands. But the authorities, Kim and Hal don't believe Davey when he tries to tell them what happened.

It's not long, though, before Davey finds himself being chased by spies led by a man named Rice (Michael Murphy). At one point, they attempt to get the cartridge from Davey by kidnapping Kim, but he is able to save her with Jack's help. However, Rice manages to kill Morris and plant a bomb in Kim's walkie-talkie (yes, before cell phones dominated society, there were walkie-talkies) before Davey is kidnapped by a seemingly-friendly couple (John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan) who are confederates of Rice.

Eventually, Davey escapes and kills Rice after Jack tricks him. This angers Davey as he did not want to really kill anybody. His anger then turns to sadness as Jack vanishes, but Jack's voice encourages him to save Kim. Davey intercepts the couple who take him hostage and board a plane. But Hal, having heard about the killing of Rice, manages to sneak on board the plane when they demand a pilot. He and Davey manage to escape before the bomb goes off, killing the couple.

Some critics called this film 'Hitchcock for kids.' That certainly can't be a coincidence as its director, Richard Franklin, previously directed Psycho II (1982) and McIntire played the sheriff in Psycho (1960), while Nolan voiced Norman Bates's mother in the same film.

Thomas is every bit as good here as he was in E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) because, as in that film, he is playing an ordinary fun-loving kid, who winds up being involved in something overwhelming. Murphy is, at times, downright scary as Rice, especially in the climatic face-off between him and Davey, where the latter tells him that he does not want to kill him, but Rice simply says he wants Davey dead.

But the scene-stealer is Coleman, who is wonderful as both Hal and Jack, giving both characters subtle differences. One could easily see this dual role as Davey's desire to have his father in his life and the end when father and son emerge victorious and embrace will certainly bring a tear to the eye.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Finding Forrester (2000)

"Did you ever enter a writing contest?"
"Yeah, once."
"Did you win?"
"Well of course I won!"
"You win like money or something?
"Well, what did you win?"
"The Pulitzer."
-Jamal Wallace and William Forrester.

The great Sir Sean Connery officially announced his retirement from acting in 2003, the same year that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was released. Connery was unhappy with the making of that film, which led to his decision to retire. The movie was surprisingly dull, but Sir Sean was perfect casting as Allan Quartermain. If the film does indeed prove to be his final screen appearance, at least history will be able to say it was a great part, even if the movie itself couldn't be called that.

Before Gentlemen, though, Connery had a wonderful role in this movie as the title character, reclusive writer William 1Forrester. On a dare by friends, teenager Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) goes into Forrester's New York apartment and, after initial hostility, Forrester offers to help Wallace with his writing skills.

This leads to an improvement in Wallace's grades at his school, as well as suspicions of plagiarism from Wallace's professor Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham), who is an acquaintance of Forrester.

After turning down Wallace's invitation to watch him play a basketball game at Madison Square Garden (Forrester's anxiety issues keep him from being part of a crowd), the recluse agrees to meeting with him at Yankee Stadium late on night. It is here that Forrester tells him of his personal family drama, which led Forrester to writing his book Avalon Landing.

The two fall into conflict, though, when Wallace uses the beginning of one of Forrester's essays in his class, even though he promised him that the work would never leave his apartment. This leads to Crawford accusing Wallace of plagiarism, although Wallace is told that the charge will be dropped if he wins the state championship, which he does not!

But this does not stop Wallace from writing an essay to Forrester about friendship, which Forrester receives thanks to Wallace's brother Terrell (Busta Rhymes).

This leads to Forrester reading the essay himself at a school contest, which results in great applause from the audience. He also reveals to Crawford that Wallace had permission from him to submit his previous essay. As a result, the plagiarism charge against Wallace is dropped, to Crawford's chagrin.

A year later, Wallace learns that Forrester died of cancer. His lawyer (Matt Damon) informs Wallace that Forrester has left him the manuscript for another novel and wants Wallace to write the foreword for it.

When the movie was released, Connery told Roger Ebert that the movie was similar to his classic film The Man Who Would Be King (1975) in that, at its heart, it was a story of friendship. Indeed, the real meat of this story comes from the friendship which forms between Forrester and Wallace, in the same way that King's greatness comes from the friendship between the characters played by Connery and Sir Michael Caine.

It is also nice seeing Connery share the screen again with Abraham, as the two previously acted together in The Name of the Rose (1986).

The only complaint I have with the film is that Anna Paquin doesn't have much to do as Wallace's classmate Claire Spence. I suppose this was better, though, then having her and Wallace go through the motions of often found in dramas about schools.

I must also say that this movie, while given limited release, redeemed its director Gus Van Sant as his previous film was the ill-fated remake of Psycho (1998).

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Agony Booth review: Marvel’s Transformers G1 Comic (1984-1991)

My recent review for the Agony Booth looks at the comic Marvel put out centering on the Transformers during their (pre-Michael Bay) height of fame in the 1980s.

Like many of my generation, I grew up loving the Transformers cartoon during the mid-to-late 1980s. After all, these were robots that could turn themselves into cars, planes, weapons, and even dinosaurs! What’s not to like here?

Hasbro introduced the Transformers in 1984, one year after a similar line of robots called the GoBots. Those toys were made by Tonka and also had a cartoon, which ran from 1983 until 1987. However, the GoBots faded into obscurity, while the Transformers increased in popularity, and Hasbro bought out Tonka in 1991.

Unlike Star Wars, the Transformers toys came along before the cartoon (the same applies to other lucrative Hasbro properties from the 1980s, like G.I. Joe and My Little Pony). Perhaps this is why the cartoon hasn’t aged well. Yes, you could say that about almost any animated show from that decade, but Transformers has actually aged worse than most, because its lapses in logic are even more bizarre than, say, Bugs Bunny climbing into a hot stove when he discovers a party going on inside.

For example, the Transformers series began with the three-part installment “More Than Meets the Eye”, which introduced the Autobots and the Decepticons, and showed us how their war took them from their home planet of Cybertron to Earth. It ended with the Decepticons presumably vanquished and the victorious Autobots preparing to return home. But in the very next episode, the Autobots are still on Earth, apparently with no plans to leave, even though they’re (initially) unaware that the Decepticons are still around.

Still, the cartoon proved popular enough to spawn an animated feature film in 1986. But alas, Transformers: The Movie ended up sucking hard, despite a great voice cast that included Leonard Nimoy, Scatman Crothers, Robert Stack, and the legendary Orson Welles in his final film role (which is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard).

The movie was as logic-free as the cartoon, but the main reason the fans (myself included) hated it was because of the arbitrary way it killed off not only Autobot leader Optimus Prime, but other beloved characters as well, including Starscream, who was always a good source of laughs on the show for how he constantly challenged the authority of Decepticon leader Megatron.

Actually, it wasn’t even the fact that those characters were killed off; it was more that they were killed off in lousy ways. For a good analogy, just think of the way James T. Kirk was killed off. In other words, their deaths had absolutely no relevance to the plot of the film, which had the Transformers dealing with a huge-ass Transformer named Unicron (voiced by Welles) who could transform into a planet. We now had a new boring Autobot leader named Rodimus Prime, and a resurrected Megatron (rechristened Galvatron) who, despite sounding like Spock, just wasn’t fun to watch without an underling who was batshit-crazy enough to challenge him.

So while I certainly don’t regret the time I devoted to collecting the toys, the cartoon is not something I’ve gone out of my way to get on DVD.

But at the same time the cartoon was on the air, Marvel Comics began publishing a Transformers comic book series. It started as a four-issue limited series (complete with an appearance from Spider-Man in issue #3) detailing the robots’ war and their arrival on Earth and Optimus Prime’s attempts to stop Megatron while protecting humanity, with a few slight tweaks (the Autobots’ nerdy human pal Spike is named “Buster” here).

Strong sales prompted Marvel to continue the series beyond issue #4. Which is why that particular issue ends on an unexpected note, with the remaining Autobots, having triumphed over the Decepticons, suddenly getting blown away by Shockwave.

The first few issues of the regular series dealt with Autobot medic Rachet, who was taking Buster’s dad Sparkplug to the hospital during the events of issue #4, as he attempted to rebuild his friends. Meanwhile, Megatron has to contend with Shockwave usurping his command.

Optimus and the other Autobots are eventually restored, but they have to deal not only with the Decepticons, but with other adversaries. One of these is a woman named Josie who, in issue #6, is horribly injured and paralyzed by Shockwave. However, Josie re-emerges stronger than ever by attaching electronic implants to herself and becoming a supervillain called “Circuit Breaker”. She then embarks on a mission to eradicate Transformers on both sides. Many of her victims are Autobots, although this plot point proves effective in issue #23, when she has to deal with the Decepticons Runabout and Runamuck.

In addition to this title, there was also a four-issue miniseries in which the Transformers shared the comic page with G.I. Joe, although that series is pretty ho-hum.

Unlike the cartoon, there were plenty of running plots in the comics which eventually came together, including numerous trips to Cybertron, which introduced us to other Autobots and Decepticons who later found their way to Earth.

One of these recurring plots occurred when the Headmasters were introduced, in another four-issue series. In that series, a group of Autobots, led by Fortress Maximus, and a group of Decepticons, led by Scorponok, take their conflict to the planet of Nebulos. Once there, Transformers on both sides agree to be partnered with natives of the planet to become either “Headmasters” (basically, a Transformer whose head transforms into a person) or “Targetmasters” (the same, only with the person transforming into a weapon).

They later join the Transformers on Earth in issue #38 after receiving a distress signal sent by Goldbug (the reincarnated form of the Autobot Bumblebee).

This leads to Optimus Prime—who was destroyed in issue #24 thanks to a video game, a WTF? moment if ever there was one—being resurrected in issue #42 as a “Powermaster” (in this case, a Nebulon partner transforms into his engine).

However, the series’ crowning moment came with its double-sized 50th issue, in which Decepticons Ratbat and Scorponok attempt to obtain the Underbase, a super-powerful database that Prime sent into space centuries earlier. However, Starscream manages to get the Underbase first and becomes powerful enough to wipe out all Transformers on both sides, until Prime tricks him into basically ODing on it. In a nutshell, this issue was everything Transformers: The Movie should have been: the stakes were much higher, and many plot elements of the series came together beautifully.

That issue could have concluded the series in a reasonable and admirable way, as none of the subsequent thirty issues reach this level of greatness again (for instance, Prime dies and returns to life yet again during this period). But there are still some good moments, such as Megatron returning in issue #56 (after presumably dying in #25), only to be caught in an explosion that merges him with Rachet, à la The Fly.

It’s also nice when Circuit Breaker finally gets even with Shockwave in issue #69. We even get to see Unicron, as well as a face-off between Megatron and Galvatron, which I suppose means the 1986 film wasn’t a total waste of time.

The series ended in 1991 with issue #80 (which amusingly bears the cover caption “#80 in a four-issue limited series”), in which Prime announces that the Autobots have won and can return to Cybertron.

Most of the series came from the pen of Bob Budiansky, who was the main writer until issue #55. The rest of the series came from writer Simon Furman, who wrote the Transformers comic in the UK, which readers on our side of the pond were able to get a look at via issues #33 and #34.

The series did suffer from some of the same ludicrous plot points as the cartoon. For instance, both Prime and Bumblebee died and came back almost as often as Kenny from South Park (though Prime and Bumblebee were a lot less annoying). In another issue, Buster thwarts a Decepticon’s plan to brainwash humans with (I kid you not!) a car wash.

Plus, there was the killing off of many of the Transformers in issue #50, which was done, like in the 1986 film, solely for the purpose of introducing new characters into the mix, even though it was done in a more dramatically satisfying way. In addition, Buster was basically Spike until, lo and behold, Spike himself was introduced as Buster’s big brother, and inexplicably became an Autobot leader when Fortress Maximus’ original partner Galen was killed in issue #38.

But overall, the good in the series outweighs the bad. One of the best moments is in issue #4 of the Headmasters miniseries, when Scorponok’s partner Lord Zarak realizes that his bonding with the Decepticon is slowly taking his humanity from him. This revelation leads to him freeing the partners of the Autobot Headmasters (who were captured in the previous issue) before Scorponok’s influence completely overtakes him. This plot point made Zarak a somewhat sympathetic and even tragic character (another nod to The Fly?) because moments such as these were rarely (if ever) seen on the cartoon.

The series presenting these kinds of issues, as well as conflict within the camps of both Autobots and Decepticons, is ultimately what made this series different and more interesting than the cartoon.

Even when the series officially finished, its continuity would be picked up just two years later when Marvel published the Transformers: Generation 2 series, and later, the Regeneration One series.

So, while people today may automatically think of the dumb, annoying Michael Bay films (starring the dumb, annoying Shia LeBeouf) when they think of the Transformers, this series proved that something dramatically intriguing can be mined out of its premise.

Happily, the series has been reissued in collector’s volumes, available now from IDW Publishing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Theater of Blood (1973)

"For thirty years the public has acknowledged that I was the master, and that this year my season of Shakespeare was the shining jewel in the crown of the immortal bard!"
-Edward Lionheart.

I recently wrote a review of the terrific comedy, Billy Shakespeare. The film, written, directed and co-edited by Deborah Voorhees, shows how we'd react to history's most famous playwright if he emerged in contemporary times.

Watching that film prompted me to look at another, more sinister look at Shakespeare. Theater of Blood tells the story of actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price), who, after apparently taking his own life two years earlier, sets out to kill all the critics who denied him the best actor of the year award.

Lionheart, aided by his daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg) and a group of tramps who nursed him back to health following his suicide attempt (Lionheart's fan club?), goes about these grisly tasks by re-enacting death scenes from Shakespeare's plays.

His first victim, George Maxwell (Michael Hordern), is stabbed to death by said misfits on March 15, a la the killing of the title character in Julius Caesar.

The next victim, Hector Snipe (Dennis Price), like Hector in Troilus and Cressida, is impaled through the heart with a spear before being dragged by a horse.

Lionheart next drugs Horace Sprout (Arthur Lowe) and his wife (Joan Hickson) to sleep before decapitating him, leading to his Mrs. getting the same wake-up call that Imogen did when she awakens to see Cloten in Cymbeline.

But Lionheart is not above taking dramatic license with the text he holds so dear when he permits Trevor Dickman (Harry Andrews) to be killed in order to satisfy the bloodlust of Lionheart's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

He also takes advantage of Oliver Larding's (Robert Coote) love for alcohol when he drowns him in a vat of wine, a la the Duke of Clarence's demise in Richard III.

The one critic Lionheart purposely does not kill is Solomon Psaltery (Jack Hawkins), whom he ensures goes to prison when he tricks him into killing his wife in a jealous rage, a la Othello.

Lionheart's plans begin to slightly derail when he attempts to kill Peregrine Devlin (Ian Hendry) by re-enacting the sword fight between Tybalt and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Devlin, who has begun to suspect Lionheart as the murderer, fights admirably, but admits defeat when Lionheart overcomes him and basically tells him to get it over with. But Lionheart then decides to spare him for another time.

However, Lionheart's temporary mercy is not extended to Chloe Moon (Coral Browne, who later became Price's wife), whom Lionheart electrocutes with hair curlers as a modern-day version of Joan of Arc burning at the stake in Henry the VI: Part I.

Lionheart then kills Meredith Merridew (Robert Morley) by forcing him to eat his two poodles baked in a pie, just as Queen Tamora ate her children baked in a pie in Titus Andronicus.

He then attempts to kill Devlin again by taking him to a theater and threatening him with hot pokers in his eyes, a la the blinding of the Earl of Glouchester in King Lear, unless he announces Lionheart as the winner of the Critic's Circle Award.

Fortunately for Devlin, the police arrive in time to save him. Lionheart sets the theater on fire. When Edwina is killed in the confusion, Lionheart takes his daughter to the top of the burning building and quoting the end of Lear before falling to his death.

Some have noted the plot similarities between this film and The Abominable Dr. Phibes(1971), which also starred Price. In that film, he played the title character, who goes about killing the doctors he blames for the death of his wife by re-enacting the curses depicted in the Old Testament.

This film, while gorier, has more of a sense of humor. One could often tell the fun Price was having in many of the films he did, and that is probably never more apparent than it is here. He also has a wonderful supporting cast to back him up.

This film could be viewed as the precursor to Scream (1996) in that its killer commits his horrific acts using something he loves as inspiration (Devlin, at one point, tells Edwina that her father may have been praised more if he had done more than just Shakespeare).

Thankfully, this film never had the increasingly awful sequels Scream had.

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Unfinished Life (2005)

"You wanna know what I dreamed last night?"
"I dreamed you weren't such a miserable son of a bitch."
"That's not dreaming, that's wishful thinking."
-Mitch Bradley and Einar Gilkyson.

Since this Sunday is Father's Day, I decided to take a look at one of my dad's favorite films.

This story centers on Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez), who asks her estranged father-in-law Einar (Robert Redford) if she and her daughter Griff (Becca Gardner) can move in with him after Jean's latest romantic relationship ends badly.

Einar rooms on his Wyoming ranch with his partner Mitch Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who was attacked by a bear one year earlier and who is now cared for by Einar, who does so out of guilt as he was drunk at the time of his attack.

Although the death of Mitch's son, Griffin, put a rift on his relationship with Jean, he and Mitch soon befriend Griff. At the same time, Jean becomes smitten with the local sheriff (Josh Lucas), who manages to put the bear that attacked Mitch in the zoo.

Alas, Jean's last boyfriend Gary (Damian Lewis) tracks her down and causes trouble. Likewise, the bear is freed at Mitch's insistence.

After some (admittedly predictable) drama between Einar and Jean, he basically throws Guy out of town, while Mitch has a final face-to-face with the bear before it flees into the mountains.

Hands down, the pleasure of this film comes from the pairing of Redford and Freeman, two lions in winter if ever there were any. The funniest moment in the film is their reply when Griff asks them if they are gay.

Most everything else in this movie pales in comparison to seeing these two legends share the screen.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Stay Tuned (1992)

"Boy, this is strange!"
"Strange? I'm an animated rodent wearing high-heel running shoes. The word 'strange' is somehow lacking."
-Roy and Helen Knable.

Today is my sister's birthday, so I've decided to take a look at one of her favorite films. She and I are both fans of the great John Ritter. I was working at Borders when we got the news that he unexpectedly passed in 2003. Not long afterward, my sister asked me if I could get a DVD of Stay Tuned, which we had seen a few years earlier. It didn't take me long to get a copy for her.

In this film, Ritter plays Roy Knable, a Seattle man who, when not unhappily working as a salesman, passes the time by simply watching TV of all kinds, whether it's sporting events, soap operas, or just a good old action film. This time in front of the TV begins to anger his wife Helen (Pam Dawber), although their kids Diane (Heather McComb) and Darryl (David Tom), who also narrates the film, don't seem as neglected.

Soon after Helen smashes the TV, Roy is visited by the mysterious Mr. Spike (Jeffrey Jones), who gives Roy an up-to-date satellite system with 666 channels and programming such as Three Men and Rosemary's Baby, Northern Overexposure and My Three Sons of Bitches. When Helen sees the new system, she attempts to leave Roy before the systems satellite dish sucks them both into Hell Vision, which is basically TV hell.

Their first stop is a game show where the penalty for giving the wrong answer is death. After surviving that, they encounter Spike's former employee Crowley (Eugene Levy), who informs them that Spike arranges for souls to be killed in this world, but that they can leave if they survive for 24 hours.

As Roy and Helen go through various programs such as Duane's Underworld (which is much funnier than Mike Myers's 2008 film The Love Guru), Darryl and Diane (who were both out when Roy and Helen vanished) learn that their parents are prisoners of TV and manage to help them from the outside.

This leads to Spike honoring his contract with Roy by returning him home but not Helen, as she did not sign any contract. Roy, armed with his own remote control, save Helen in the western setting Spike trapped her in and goes through scenarios involving Star Trek: The Next Generation (prompting Roy to go "Holy Shatner!") and, the perfect in-joke for this film, Three's Company (although it'd have been nice if there had been a similar nod at Mork & Mindy), before he and Helen come home, leaving Spike and the mercy of their neighbors' mean dog, who got sucked into Hell Vision after the Knables returned.

The whole cast is pleasant and the TV scenarios are fun, but, hands down, the best moment of this film is the sequence where Roy and Helen are cartoon mice being chased by a robotic cat. The sequence, animated by Looney Tunes legend Chuck Jones, makes one wish that more of the film could have built around it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spielberg and Lucas: Then and Now

My recent review of War of the Worlds prompted me to take my own look at how its director Steven Spielberg and his friend George Lucas are both wrongfully blamed for creating the blockbuster mentality that Hollywood in currently engulfed in, as well as how they both hold up today as artists.

If my review sounded like I have Spielberg-bias, well, so be it. Along with Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, Spielberg is probably the only director who came onto the scene in the 1970s who basically still commands the same respect today.

One reason for this is that, unlike Lucas, Spielberg still respects the people who brought him the cachet he now enjoys. For example, even before he publicly apologized for unnecessarily tampering with his classic E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Spielberg ensured that the original version of that movie would be available for the public. Heck, he even apologized for his part in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). In the documentary The People vs. George Lucas (2010), film critic Rafik Djoumi commented that the disdain for Crystal Skull was more directed at Indy creator Lucas, rather than Spielberg.

Indeed, before Crystal Skull, Spielberg made his great, controversial drama Munich (2005), which scored him his sixth Oscar nomination as Best Director. Since Crystal Skull, Spielberg has gone on to direct War Horse (2011), The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and, most importantly, Lincoln (2012), which earned him another Oscar nomination for directing. At the same time, fan disdain towards Lucas continues due, in large part, to his stubborn refusal to allow the original versions of the original Star Wars trilogy to be available on blu-ray.

One of my colleagues recently posted an interesting article about how the success of Spielberg's Jaws(1975), which deservedly became a classic and a big moneymaker in spite of the incredible difficulty Spielberg and company had in making it, told Hollywood that summertime was the best time to put out the big budget escapist films. Star Wars took that even further by saying that films with special effects were certain to bring in the cash, regardless of the story.

A previous article on the same blog made an interesting comment regarding an article in GQ magazine a few years earlier. It stated that Top Gun (1986) may actually deserve the blame that some unfairly put on Jaws and Star Wars in terms of how movies are not only made but marketed. The trailer for that film basically tells the whole story and watching the music videos for the film's songs such as Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away is pretty much the same as watching the film itself since the scenes in those videos are the same as those in the movie itself.

What's interesting, though, is how Spielberg and Lucas went off on separate paths once Jaws and Star Wars came out. The making of both movies proved quite the ordeal for their respective directors. Spielberg, though, would go on to direct a number of great films after Jaws, starting with the science fiction drama Close Encounters of the Third Kind(1977). But his reputation as a escapist filmmaker probably emerged during the 1980s when he directed the first three Indiana Jones films and E.T., as well as produced such films as Poltergeist(1982), Gremlins(1984), The Goonies(1985), Back to the Future(1985) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit(1988), as well as the anthology series Amazing Stories (Spielberg directed a few episodes of that show). This perception may have cost him Oscar nominations for directing both The Color Purple(1985) and Empire of the Sun(1987). Happily, Spielberg would get Oscar gold for both Schindler's List(1993) and Saving Private Ryan(1998).

In contrast, Lucas would swear off sitting in the director's chair for over two decades after Star Wars, although he was very much involved with making both The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). He would continue to score by producing the Indy films, as well as Labyrinth (1986). But Jurassic Park (1993) would bring him back into the directing fold when he saw the great work his company, Industrial Light and Magic, had done for that film.

As a result, Lucas decided to direct all three Star Wars prequels himself. I don't need to remind anyone of how disappointing they all turned out to be. However, the seeds of disappointment were probably sewn in 1997, two years before the release of the first prequel The Phantom Menace. Star Wars turned 20 that year and Lucas decided to commemorate the occasion by not only re-releasing the movie, but by adding certain CGI-tweaks to the movie, which resulted in the Special Edition. These changes included the now-infamous way Han Solo shooting Greedo was redone.

But even this 1997 re-release wasn't the definitive edition of the original trilogy, according to Lucas. When the films hit DVD in 2004, there were even more changes, such as Jabba looking even more ridiculous than in the 1997 edition, and, even worse, inserting Hayden Christensen into the end of Jedi. Yet, Lucas still wasn't done because when the movies hit blu-ray in 2011, there were (yep!) more changes, such as Vader suddenly giving the patented Star Wars "NOOOO!" before he tosses the Emperor down that shaft.

I've made peace with the fact that the prequels were disappointing (I am still a Star Wars fan but have never purchased the prequels on DVD) and I'm also fine with the unnecessary changes George claims were always in his head when making the original films. All I, and others ask is that the original versions of the first trilogy be available on blu-ray in a nice pristine state (I must confess, though, I'm happy with the 2006 DVD versions, even though I can understand why some fans are not). Now that Disney owns Star Wars, maybe they can be talked into doing this.

Many were understandably upset when we heard that walkie-talkies were going to replace guns for the climax of E.T.. However, as far as I know, there was never a petition for Spielberg to restore the original version of the film because he had already announced that it would be available on DVD. In contrast, Lucas has repeatedly stated that the updated original version of the original Star Wars trilogy is the ONLY version and, shockingly, that it would cost too much money and time to release versions of the original theatrical cuts.

The fact that anything is too expensive for George just makes me laugh. When Red Tails (2012), which Lucas produced, was released, he announced, not for the first time, that he was going to retire from making movies like Star Wars and focus on smaller films.

It's ironic that we have yet to see any of these smaller films, while Spielberg has made a number of non-blockbuster movies.

Hence, I'm always looking forward to seeing the next Spielberg movie in the cinema, but go into a new Lucas picture with reservations. For his part, Spielberg defends Lucas and his rights to change the Star Wars films. I can't entirely disagree with that stance since they are friends and the movies do belong to Lucas. It is noteworthy, though, that Spielberg has basically moved on from the success he achieved in the 1970s, whereas Lucas is virtually milking his own 1970s success for all he can.